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Reclaiming the language

One of the key elements of debating I learned is that whatever side determines the language most often wins. We see this played out all the time -- I think the most notable in the abortion issue, when one side portrays the two positions as "pro-choice" and "anti-choice," while the other uses the terms "pro-life" and "pro-abortion." Both sides argue that their position is the more accurate and simpler; I just use each group's term for itself to avoid arguments.

But it's not just there that the issue of language, of words, that is important. Many other words have been misused and cheapened, debased in order to serve the political aims of their users, most often to disguise the reprehensible nature of the deeds they describe.

Fox News, I believe, was the first major organization to look at the term "suicide bombers." They decided that the goal of the bombers was not to kill themselves, but others; their own deaths were incidental, a means to an end. They started using "homicide bombers," a clumsy and incomplete construct, but a smidgen more accurate.

In that spirit, and inspired by David Bernstein of The Volokh Conspiracy's piece on giving the "proper" names to Hizbollah and Hamas ("The Party Of Allah" and "The Islamic Resistance Movement" respectively), there are a few terms that I'd like to see vanish from the rhetoric of the War On Terror.

Militant: It used to mean one of strong, fierce beliefs. Let's call them "para-military," "terrorists," "guerrillas," or some such thing that reflects their willingness to take up arms without observing the obligations that are incumbent on combatants -- such as wearing distinguishing markings to set them off from civilians, avoiding injuring or endangering non-combatants, and the like.

Execute: The legally-sanctioned killing of a criminal by a government in a manner prescribed by law. To call the killings by terrorists as "executions" is to give them more validity than they deserve. They are murders, no more and no less.

Capture: To be taken prisoner by lawful authorities, or legal combatants. Hamas and Hezbollah -- I'm sorry, "The Islamic Resistance Movement" and "The Party Of Allah" -- did NOT capture Israeli soldiers; they kidnapped them. They abducted them with an eye towards winning a ransom.

Ceasefire: A temporary ending to hostilities, when both sides agree on nothing but to temporarily suspend open conflict. Not to be confused with a decrease in attacks by one side, accompanied by a demand the other side stop all actions and grant concessions.

Tragedy: An unplanned, unpredicted bad event. Not a deliberate attack or atrocity.

OK, those are the ones off the top of my head. Anyone else care to contribute their least-favorite perversion of language?


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Comments (28)

Martyr.... (Below threshold)

Martyr.

Oh - and racism when applie... (Below threshold)

Oh - and racism when applied to a religion.

"DIsproportionate" when app... (Below threshold)
Ryan:

"DIsproportionate" when applied to a response to year after year of attacks on the people of a sovereign nation when they finally decide to respond.

"Civillian" is another term that shoudl nto be tossed around so lightly until it is sure they are actually civiliians.

"Torture" is used much too often. .

I would like to see the tax... (Below threshold)
Dale:

I would like to see the tax issue better framed. Bush cut the tax rates, which caused an increase in tax revenue. Simply using tax cuts or tax hikes doesn't tell the whole story. Are you talking about the rates or the revenue generated?

Oh - and racism wh... (Below threshold)
MikeB:
Oh - and racism when applied to a religion.

Or more generally, 'racism' when applied to a culture.

For some reason, there are those who confuse race with culture. I suppose because more times than not those that are a member of a certain culture are of the same race; however, the two are not the same.

Race is not something one can choose and says nothing about the type of person you are.

Culture is a matter of choice and says much about the type of person you are.

Judging someone based on their race is unnacceptible and illogical.

Judging someone based on their culture is completely acceptible and logical.

- MikeB

Tragedy is supposed to be a... (Below threshold)

Tragedy is supposed to be a bad event brought on my a person's moral failings. The definition you have above is for "accident".

“Liberal” when ap... (Below threshold)

“Liberal” when applied to people who believe mostly in positive rather than negative rights.

“Progressive” when applied to those who want to return to some mythical socialist ascendancy.

“Consesrvative” when applied to radicals of the right.

Practically every attempt at political taxonomy has been so debased as to be useless.

Josh Poulson, above, is exa... (Below threshold)

Josh Poulson, above, is exactly right. I think that particular debasement of language is an example of “newspaperese”: using a bigger imprecise word when a short, precise one is better.

When someone is struck by an automobile and killed when crossing the street it is sad but not tragic.

"Liberal Utopia" - w... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

"Liberal Utopia" - what happens to a large city after liberals get too much of a grip on it. See college campuses, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City. Usually not a fun place.

"Reasonable Gun Control" - hasn't been for reasonable for years decades, and as the United Kingdom and the liberal Utopias have shown, isn't focused on just guns.

"Social Security" - Neither benefits society, nor is secure.

"Seperation of Church and State" - Sure, it's in the Constitution... somewhere... but don't worry, it doesn't mean we have to prevent our states from being overrun by, say, Greenhouse gas religionists, or Muslim radicals. It's just a way to bash people who actually believe in a Church.

"Freedom of Speech" - Oh, silly, you can't say what you want about race, society, or even politics. But feel free to take up whatever is the left official cause without risk.

Jay, for Militant I think I... (Below threshold)

Jay, for Militant I think I stumbled across the proper substitution in someone's column on Townhall...since my computer has eaten it I don't recall who is was...anyway, I've taken to using this term in place of 'militant', 'insurgent', 'islamofacist' and the like...the most correct term for all of these muslim lunatics is:

jihadist

short and simple, crosses Sunni and Shiite lines, crosses ethnic and national boundaries, and covers all those muslims, armed or not, that think that killing non-muslims is going to get them what they want. And it returns the emphasis to the killers' true goal...not just 'terror', not just 'insurgency', just holy war, because that's what it boils down to.

This thread is really fun, ... (Below threshold)
LoveAmerica Immigrant:

This thread is really fun, but I will take a pass. I cannot write as well as you all.

TerroristI debate ... (Below threshold)
yetanotherjohn:

Terrorist

I debate with a liberal friend and he will stop debating if I identify Hamas, Hezbollah, etc as terrorist because "such perjorative language prejudices the debate". I think Hexbollah's and Hamas' actions prejudice the debate.

There is such a thing as terrorist. It would be like us fighting the Barbary Pirates and insisting on calling them "Free spirited navalists".

"Liberal Utopia" - what ... (Below threshold)
mantis:

"Liberal Utopia" - what happens to a large city after liberals get too much of a grip on it. See college campuses, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City. Usually not a fun place.

Chicago and New York aren't fun places? I guess that depends on your idea of fun.

I also like how you think "Freedom of Speech" is a perversion of the language.

1) civil war - No wa... (Below threshold)

1) civil war - No war is civil. What people call a civil war is in reality an intranational war, as opposed to an international war such as WWII.

2) pro-choice - According to data from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 67.3% of women who have abortions have never been married, and the vast majority of abortions are elective.

So, more often than not, a woman who seeks an abortion is trying to rid herself of the natural consequence of her choice to have sex with a man to whom she was not married. Such a woman isn't pro-choice. She is anti-consequence.

3) journalistic ethics - The expression is too vague. These days, each journalist/editor/ newspaper has her/his/its own description of what is ethical and what isn't.

"Liberal Utopia" -... (Below threshold)
Heralder:
"Liberal Utopia" - what happens to a large city after liberals get too much of a grip on it. See college campuses, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City. Usually not a fun place.

Yeah, I disagree...I live in NYC and it is a fun place....short on conservatives though.

The expression separatio... (Below threshold)

The expression separation of Church and State is merely a label which describes what the First Amendment does. The Amendment separates Church from State (thus preventing Protestant fundamentalists from using the State as a tool to promote their religious beliefs).

Innocent civilians o... (Below threshold)
snowballs:

Innocent civilians or Innocents. For some reason, that drives me nuts, but I'm not sure why.

Chicago and New York are... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

Chicago and New York aren't fun places? I guess that depends on your idea of fun.
And
Yeah, I disagree...I live in NYC and it is a fun place....short on conservatives though.

Depends on if how you look at things. For example, in Chicago, most forms of self-defense require state approval, while in a good year, they had more than 600 murders, or roughly 22 per 100,000 individuals. This is despite many homicides being labeled as "cardiac arrest" to drop down homicide rates (the majority of deaths by blood loss cause the heart to stop before brain death, go figure), and other malfeasances.

Sure, the food's not bad, and I'd expect you could find some fun tourist sights, but... not exactly a great place, IMO.

I also like how you think "Freedom of Speech" is a perversion of the language.

More a perversion of intent, but yes. I, for example, can be charged with a crime for writing a paper that may be understood as favoring a political candidate and publishing it in a catalog. This doesn't, apparently, violate 'freedom of speech' in the modern usage, (see : McConnell v. FEC), but I doubt anyone would say it's what the words actually mean.

Depends on if how you lo... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Depends on if how you look at things. For example, in Chicago, most forms of self-defense require state approval, while in a good year, they had more than 600 murders, or roughly 22 per 100,000 individuals.

The murder rate here is high, yes, but that doesn't exactly make the city no fun. There's plenty of fun to be had here. I'm not sure if you're saying self-defense with handguns is "fun", and the lack of it here makes the city less fun, so maybe you can clarify.

This is despite many homicides being labeled as "cardiac arrest" to drop down homicide rates (the majority of deaths by blood loss cause the heart to stop before brain death, go figure), and other malfeasances.

I haven't heard anything about cardiac arrests to lower homicide rates. Care to point me towards some reading on the subject?

Sure, the food's not bad, and I'd expect you could find some fun tourist sights, but... not exactly a great place, IMO.

First off, the food is great. I'm not much for the tourist traps, but the music scene is great, museums are good (check out the International Museum of Surgical Science, it's a trip), we've got plenty of freaks to laugh at, the mayor is a lot of fun ;). There's a lot of fun to be had here. Now if you had said the weather in Chicago makes it no fun, I'd have a hard time refuting that.

I am curious though, if Chicago and NY are not fun towns, what would be? Boise?

More a perversion of intent, but yes. I, for example, can be charged with a crime for writing a paper that may be understood as favoring a political candidate and publishing it in a catalog. This doesn't, apparently, violate 'freedom of speech' in the modern usage, (see : McConnell v. FEC), but I doubt anyone would say it's what the words actually mean.

I can certainly understand the free speech argument against some campaign finance laws, but does that really mean the phrase "freedom of speech" is a perversion of the language? If we don't live up to it, isn't it still worthy as the ideal?

I'm not sure if you're s... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

I'm not sure if you're saying self-defense with handguns is "fun", and the lack of it here makes the city less fun, so maybe you can clarify.

It's a personal psychological thing : I find it very hard to enjoy myself in situations where a group that's inherently difficult to trust is attempting to gain a monopoly of force.

Perhaps I should have used the word safe or free instead of fun. My apologies, my grasp of the nuances of the English language is far from perfect.

I haven't heard anything about cardiac arrests to lower homicide rates. Care to point me towards some reading on the subject?

I remember reading about it in a Time magazine two years ago. I'll try and find a direct link on the report about it.

I can certainly understand the free speech argument against some campaign finance laws, but does that really mean the phrase "freedom of speech" is a perversion of the language? If we don't live up to it, isn't it still worthy as the ideal?

I have no problem with the ideal of freedom of speech - I'm quite a proponent of it. But that doesn't make it less of a 'weasel word', or perversion of language, particularly when used by groups such as Big Media (for example, when discussin why they should be protected by journalist shield laws, or why regards to the unpopular 'abuses of' groups like SwiftVets and MoveOn), or by the ACLU (which describes how important it is that neo-Nazis be given freedom of speech, while ignoring more easily defendable and more abrupt abuses).

I remember reading about... (Below threshold)
mantis:

I remember reading about it in a Time magazine two years ago. I'll try and find a direct link on the report about it.

I did a LexisNexis search in Time and came up with nothing. Let me know if you find it.

or by the ACLU (which describes how important it is that neo-Nazis be given freedom of speech, while ignoring more easily defendable and more abrupt abuses).

I'm curious about this since this is the only remotely political organization I'm actually a member of. What more easily defendable and more abrupt(?) abuses do they ignore?

"Extreme" when it is applie... (Below threshold)

"Extreme" when it is applied to anything other than temperature

"supporter of states rights... (Below threshold)
Robert:

"supporter of states rights". It really means racist.

"Supporters of states rights" are against states assisted suicide and medical marijuana laws.

I'm in a political vein so... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

I'm in a political vein so the current war in Lebanon as in Iraqi providing many rich candidates for conveying words in the opposite ways they were intended.. I' m sure the Hezbollah, and Iraqi insurgents are equalling guilty, but so be it. "We do seek an end to the current violence and we seek it urgently" Condi Rice said today. You won't hear her say what she really means...Actually, "we want the shelling to continue and so we have been taking our bloody time about calling for a cease fire"...Of course, this comes down to how you feel about terror directed at you.. Israel is at war, therefore the rules change (and the gloves come off) IDF Chief of Staff Halutz put it more bluntly and to the point: 'We will fight terror wherever it is because if we do not fight it, it will fight us. If we don't reach it, it will reach us". Meanwhile, the lucky ones, flee in panic from the heavy retaliatary civilian pounding, with the consolation that as they flee, leaving behind what is left of their lives and homes they are beneficiaries of the war on terror in some unspecified future since their " freedumb is on the march ..

Mantis, I can't really comm... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Mantis, I can't really comment on neo-nazi cases, but ACLU has defended the FBI translator Sibel Edmonds laudably for her 'patriotism'.when few would dare defend her...Regular programming can now return.

I have one for you. Why do ... (Below threshold)

I have one for you. Why do most MS white people refer to areas where there are large populations of blacks as urban. The last time I checked, the "Oxford Dictionary" described urban as: "Living in, or situated in a town or city" So why are only black people synonymous with urban? For instance,you would never hear Salt Lake City, Utah,or Ames, Iowa being referred to as urban areas. Yet they are. And cities like New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. etc. always carry the urban moniker when white people talk about them.

For once, field-negro, a go... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

For once, field-negro, a good question. But, I don't have an answer.

Perhaps you can ask the Urban League.

http://www.urbanleague.org/

I'm curious about this s... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

I'm curious about this since this is the only remotely political organization I'm actually a member of. What more easily defendable and more abrupt(?) abuses do they ignore?

Heh.

Any of the better-known ATF abuses, an example of which is currently going on at KT Ordinance would be better spending of funding than fighting for NAMBLA. Regardless of your feeling about those stances, the right to bear arms tends to be looked at slightly more favorably than pedophilia.

Another example : fighting variations of Megan's Laws (sex offender registries) as opposed to, say, fighting the states with registries of innocent and lawful individuals who's only 'crime' was to legally purchase a gun.

And, no, this isn't 'just' a RKBA thing.

Freedom of association and freedom of speech that runs counter to the ACLU's antidiscrimination viewpoint are often directly fought against (for those keeping track, while discrimination is stupid and usually against the law, the right to say what you want while on public grounds without the police kicking your tail is a constitutional right). Examples include BSA v. Dale.

Even the right to privacy is ignored when not wanted. "Jane Doe v RIAA" attained no ACLU protection, the same year they fought against financial breaks (largely tax-based) for married couples. I honestly can't see either of these ones being that popular or easy to fight for.

There are no doubt other examples. Kids being expelled from public schools for the design of a medallion (no, nothing illicit). Public colleges shutting down an art exhibit on 9/11 because it was 'offensive'.

I've long since decided that giving my money directly to things I found to be worthy causes would be a hell of a lot more effective.




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